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DH settles for much less in second chance at Tribunal

08 April 2017

A domestic helper got a second chance from the Labour Tribunal on Mar 16 to pursue her claim against her former employer, despite her non-appearance in a previous hearing that had prompted the presiding officer to drop her claim.

But the maid, Alma Tatel, was forced to accept $1,000, less than a third of what she wanted to claim, in a compromise settlement devised by the presiding officer, W Y Ho, to break an impasse with her former boss, Fung Sai.

But first, Ho gave the Filipina a tongue-lashing for failing to appear in an earlier hearing in February.
“So, why should I set aside my previous order regarding your claim?” Ho angrily asked the Filipina, who faced a counterclaim from Fung.

“I went home to the Philippines because my daughter was sick,” Tatel replied.

“But you knew you had a court hearing and you did not tell the court you could not come… If you had a good reason, you should have told the court, so, why should I change my mind?” the presiding officer said.

After she had calmed down, Ho asked the helper what she wanted from her employer. Tatel replied she just wanted to settle, and the presiding officer asked how much she sought.

Tatel said she wanted just $2,000 for her plane ticket, but, when the presiding officer asked her if that was all, the maid added $100 travel allowance and around $1,000 in wages for seven days, Ho stopped her, saying that was not settlement.

“Settlement is to agree to accept less than your claim,” the presiding officer said.

Ho reminded Tatel that she still owed her former boss cash advances to pay her loans from finance companies.

She said Fung had documents to prove Tatel still owed her $4,000 and that the former employer was determined to collect the money from her.

When Tatel finally agreed to just claim the air fare, Ho told Fung about the Filipina’s offer and tried to convince her to agree to her settlement plan.

“Ms Fung, the reality is she has no money to pay you. You insist on her giving you some money, but I think that it’s impossible to extract money from her,” Ho explained.

The employer asked the presiding officer if she could go to court if the maid could not pay, but Ho said if Fung wanted to take the case to court, then she had to go to two courts – the Small Claims Tribunal and the District Court.

“If you go take the case to the District Court, you have to find a lawyer, but if you have to consider cost, it’s not cost-effective,” Ho said, explaining that Fung might end up spending more time and resources than going for a settlement. She added that by then, Tatel might have left Hong Kong.
Fung eventually agreed to settle, and paid Tatel $2,000, of which the maid gave back $1,000 to the employer to settle her debt.

Ho made both parties sign an agreement stating they had reached a full and final settlement of their claims and promised not to go after each other anymore.

Tatel looked disappointed after the hearing. When asked by The SUN outside the courtroom if she had found an employer after her termination in August, her reply was in the negative. She said she would go home for good. – Vir B. Lumicao

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